28 September 2008

"Like children's theatre for forty year-old gay men..."

Allow me, then, some eSpace to talk about the time I've spent in a place where nobody dared to go...

I first encountered the historical Xanadu thanks to Frankie Goes to Hollywood. On their album Welcome to the Pleasuredome, there's a throwaway line, mangling Samuel Taylor Coleridge, where vocalist Holly Johnson says "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasuredome erect-" and proceeding from there along that line.
Fortunately, when it came up in my British Literature class in the tenth grade, I had a vague idea of what was being referenced.

I didn't see the Robert Greenwald film until 1993, during my freshman year of college at NYU, when another floor in my building was having a movie night with free pizza and drinks. Even then able to suss out a great bargain (note: free pizza, drinks, and a movie will always pique my interest), I pretty much crashed it, and was properly engrossed by the film. The music is rightfully spectacular. The film, not so much, but I still enjoy it. But I realized then that I knew the song, the titular song, where Olivian Newton-John and ELO made something majestic. I'd known and loved the song as a five year-old, and it was all that youthful joy sweeping me up into some kind of inXanity. And so it was for me, on the floor of the Brittany Hall building, gorged on pizza and half-flat Coke. It was magic.

When you give me an hour and a half of symphonic synth-rock and pop songs with some decent effects and an endearing sense of fun, and you'll have me riveted. At that point, in the long long ago, the soundtrack hadn't even been released in the U.S. on CD, which was somewhat fucked. Fortunately, the RA who had organized the evening's event made a tape copy for me, one which I listened to for a good three and a half years, until I finally found an Australian CD import to call my own.
And then, last year, it opened on Broadway, to much acclaim and fanfare. And oh, how I desperately wanted to see it. Alas, there was no way I could afford using ticket brokers to get in to a sold-out show, and there was much mopery on my part, but not that much because I had been on a swing away from musical theatre at that time.

What a difference, then, a year makes. I'd heard the show was closing soon, and as such made arrangements (fairly easily) to see it with some friends. But then the closing date got moved up again, so I had to act drastically. So I saw Xanadu on Broadway last Thursday, just three days before it ended its Broadway run. And, as if it had been engineered in a lab just for me, I loved it.

It's hard to express what a liberating joy musical theatre can be (some of y'all may remember my Les Miz-related Obama post a couple of weeks back), and I often forget what a friend it's been to me throughout my life. But it's funny, because musical theatre is always waiting for you, and I was beaming like the proud parent of a kid that could shit glitter for the whole experience.
Firstly, let me just say that between United 93 and Xanadu, I will follow Cheyenne Jackson anywhere. We're talking about a guy who can handle songs meant to sung by Fee Waybill, Cliff Richard, and Jeff Lynne as his own without blinking, and moreso, a performer without a hint of irony. Full marks, to be certain. I've had The Warriors on the brain as of late because of the 'Court's midnight movies series, but I can safely say that Cheyenne Jackson owns the part of Sonny Malone in perpetuity. Sorry, Mr. Beck.

Everyone in the show was good, and it actually had a point, which was hard for me to wrap my mind around at the time, but something I certainly appreciate. In a vast scorched earth of jukebox musicals and movie adaptations, Xanadu took both of those bastard genres and made them vital again, and it did it with humor, style, sass, sparkle, and a brisk running time. I mourn its passing. But I had a hell of a time, and I recommend it to anyone who has the chance to see it anywhere out there in the world. It'd be ideal for Vegas, of which I can only dream.

Here's the original cast performing at the Tony Awards.

And if anyone knows where to find an mp3 of Jackson and Anthony Rapp singing "Suddenly Seymour" at Broadway Backwards III, let me know.

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